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Pennsylvania official issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples, defies law, wins, 2013
Until May 2014, same sex marriage was illegal in Pennsylvania. The 1996 Marriage Law define marriage as being between a man and a woman. However on 23 July 2013, D. Bruce Hanes, Register of Wills in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania announced that his office would issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, in defiance of the law.
A same sex couple had contacted Hanes and asked him for a marriage license, prompting him to examine further the ban on same sex marriage. In addition, the US Supreme Court had just overturned the Defense of Marriage Act weeks earlier. Hanes concluded that the marriage law was unconstitutional and stated, “there are provisions of the Pennsylvania constitution that I think are diametrically opposed to the marriage law.” Thus he decided to issue licenses to same sex couples, believing to be firmly “on the right side of history.”
Same sex couples in Pennsylvania greeted the announcement with enthusiasm. The next day, 24 July, five couples from various counties around Pennsylvania came to Montgomery County to obtain marriage licenses from Hanes. Over the coming weeks, Hanes continued to issue marriage licenses to couples. Couples filled the benches everyday, either to get a license or to get married.
However, the state resisted. On 30 July, Governor Corbett, on behalf of the Department of Health, sued Hanes for failing to comply with Pennsylvania law. They demanded that Hanes stop giving marriage licenses to same sex couples, arguing that he did not have the power to disregard the marriage law and that he was also falsely implying that same sex marriages were valid in the state.
Besides resistance from the government and officials, various conservative groups decided to protest Hanes and his office. One such group, the Pro Life Coalition of Pennsylvania, held a “pray in” and rally at the office just days after Hanes announced his refusal to deny same sex couples marriage license, which included picketing around the office. For the most part though, Hanes and his office received letters and messages of support and gratitude.
Montgomery County itself also defended Hanes in response to the lawsuit, arguing in several statements that the ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional. In addition, 32 of the couples petitioned the court to intervene in the case out of concern that their marriages would be deemed illegal and invalid.
In total, Hanes successfully granted 174 marriage licenses before, on 12 September, the lawsuit forced him to comply with the law. The state judge ordered him to stop issuing licenses to same sex couples. Hanes stated that he was very disappointed with the ruling but would comply with the order. However, the ruling did not deem any of the marriages invalid either, considered a small victory for same sex couples.
Finally, on 20 May 2014, a federal judge struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same sex marriage. However, because of the order from the lawsuit, Hanes had to wait until the court lifted the order in order to start issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples again. On 27 May, a week after same sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania, Hanes and Montgomery County were finally able to issue the licenses again.